(from the April 17, 2005, edition of the San Antonio Express-News)
REY FEO AN ADVOCATE FOR EDUCATION
By the opening day of Fiesta 2005, Rey Feo LVII Robert D. Tips had already completely worn out one kingly uniform. Fortunately, he had a replacement made to wear throughout the 10-day marathon of Fiesta events.
Since El Rey Feo and the Queen of La Feria de Flores, the royal representatives of Rey Feo Scholarship Fund and LULAC Council No. 2, are crowned at a gala in September, they have a head start getting ready for Fiesta.
And this year, Tips has already taken his royal retinue national, with an appearance on the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.
Tips, 50, is a natural showman, with the upbeat energy of a successful entrepreneur and the impeccable manners befitting the CEO of his family business, Mission Park Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries.
He also owns San Antonio's historic Fairmount Hotel, which he purchased and began renovating last year - in time, he jokes, to give his royal court a classy downtown headquarters "castle."
Tips attended Alamo Heights High School and the University of Texas-Austin. At 21, he became the youngest member of the Freemasons in San Antonio. Today, a 32nd degree Mason and Shriner, he still attends meetings of his Albert Pike Lodge. He's also the first member of the Texas Cavaliers, the group from which King Antonio is chosen every year, to serve as a Rey Feo.
It was during his experience as Rey Feo Pete Martinez's assistant prime minister in 1999 that Tips decided to campaign for El Rey Feo's crown, he says. The candidate who raises the most funds for scholarships wins the title, and Tips has dedicated his reign primarily to literacy and to children's issues. And in addition to the popular Fiesta medals the royals distribute during Fiesta, Tips commissioned S.A.'s Dan Calderon and Express-News artist Dennis Ochoa to create a special comic-book style pamphlet to tell the story of the origins of Fiesta and its traditions. It's called "Finding Fiesta Through the Eyes of El Rey Feo." Tips will distribute them to thousands of students at the hundreds of schools he'll visit this year. The pamphlets are available in H-E-B stores and public libraries.
"I'm here to tell you why it's important to stay in school and study hard and stay in school. And I'm here to spread the spirit of Fiesta," Rey Feo tells a young student in the colorful pamphlet.
That's the real-life Tips talking. And he says it well.
CALL HIM ‘THE PEOPLE’S KING’
Fiesta’s Rey Feo Putting Crown to Good Use
Ever since being named the 57th Rey Feo last September, Robert D. Tips has been on a mission to take his reign beyond the celebration of Fiesta Week. He wants to be the “ultimate ambassador” for San Antonio and South Texas. He plans to visit more than 20,000 San Antonio school children to promote literacy, to convey a positive stay-in-school message and to reassure the next generation that they can achieve any dream. He’s arranged to produce an original children’s storybook about the story of Fiesta and Rey Feo, and to have 50,000 copies distributed to local schools.
He’s already put Rey Feo on a national stage thanks to an appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” Still to come is a whirlwind tour of some of the nation’s biggest festivals to bring the spirit of Fiesta and San Antonio to the rest of the country.
For this Rey Feo, “The People’s King” is more than a title – it’s an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy.
Tips may be easygoing, but he is very serious about his duties as the 57th person to wear the crown of Rey Feo. Literally translated as “The Ugly King,” Rey Feo is commonly referred to as “The People’s King.” It’s a title that, according to legend, dates to Medieval Times, when the King of Spain alienated his subjects by filling his court with only the beautiful, rich and aristocratic. Ordinary citizens rarely saw the king, and were never invited to the palace, so Spanish citizens crowned their own king, whom they dubbed “Rey Feo” in protest of their monarch’s snub of the regular people.
The tradition was revived in the New World in the 1600s at La Feria de San Marcos (St. Mark’s Fair), which is still held every year in Aguascalientes, Mexico. In the late 1940s, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council No. 2 introduced the Rey Feo concept to San Antonio as a scholarship fundraiser, and has crowned a Rey Feo for nearly six decades since to reign during the Alamo City’s annual 10-day celebration known as Fiesta.
Rey Feo has become as popular at Fiesta events as original Fiesta royalty King Antonio, who is chosen from among members of the Texas Cavaliers, a civic and community organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the ideals of the defenders of the Alamo.
Rey Feo and his Royal Court take part in all major Fiesta events, including parades, parties, balls and festivals that draw more than 1 million people.
For years now, many of San Antonio’s top civic and business leaders have eagerly sought the recognition of the Rey Feo crown by raising college scholorship money. Tips took over a family business of two cemeteries and expanded it into a major chain in San Antonio and Houston under the umbrella of Mission Parks Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries. Other enterprises include a life insurance company, an aviation firm and the recently acquired historic Fairmount Hotel in downtown San Antonio.
He will distribute thousands of copies of an original children’s book that tells the history of Fiesta (it started as a tribute to the fall of the Alamo and Sam Houston’s victory over Santa Ana at the Battle of San Jacinto). The book, called Finding Fiesta Through The Eyes Of Rey Feo, The People’s King is a first for any Rey Feo, and is intended to be a fun, educational tool that promotes local history and civic responsibility. For this project, Tips teamed up with H-E-B grocery store to print more than 120,000 copies of the book.
By the time Fiesta begins on April 15, Tips will have raised more than $130,000 for scholarships.
“Being Rey Feo gives me the opportunity to meet and interact with people I might never meet otherwise. It’s a rich, life-changing experience. I’m lucky to be on this journey, and I want to share it with as many people as possible.”
That sense of community pride was part of the reason Tips purchased The Fairmount Hotel from a national hotel brand in June 2004. Every king should have a castle, and Tips’ Camelot happens to be a 37-room boutique luxury property in the heart of downtown San Antonio. Tips has arranged to make The Fairmount the official home of Rey Feo for at least the next three years, and he hopes it will be the permanent home for planning and hosting many Rey Feo activities.
The nearly century-old building has a remarkable history. It would have been destroyed in 1985 to make way for Rivercenter Mall, but city leaders and conservationists worked together to come up with an extraordinary plan: Move the building six blocks down South Alamo Street. This miracle of modern engineering took six days to complete, gaining international media attention and earning the hotel a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the heaviest structure ever moved.
The Fairmount is a labor of love that he envisions as a world-class property, offering services not found anywhere else in South Texas, from helicopter tours of the city to luxury yacht-sailing packages along the Coastal Bend and jet charters to just about anywhere.
The current Rey Feo has much more planned for the future. Fiesta activities this year are scheduled from April 15-24. But if Tips has his way, “Viva Fiesta” will be a familiar cry heard year-round across the country.